TheAdventures of Billy Possum
Postscript added in 2011
Bomber and the Blue Max
By Bill J. Castenholz
Copyright 2012, Castenholzand Sons
Igot my first driver’s license the same year the Blue Max was built. One of thelast of the great line of Chance-Vought Corsairs, the Blue Max was an F4U-7.Not much is known of the early years of the plane, but Bob Guilford purchased it in 1969. He had learnedto fly Cessnas and the like, but wanted somethingmore challenging. The Blue Max certainly was that!
I first saw the Blue Max when it flew overmy house one day. After that I must admit, there became a nearly constant vigilon weekends, looking for the Corsair or its sister planes, the Cottonmouth, aP-51 Mustang and a beautiful English Spitfire. The planes became known to us asthe Santa Monica Air Force.
The Blue Max. The Cottonmouth, a P-51 is just behind it.
The beginning of an exciting day.
Somepeople think turning 50 years old means that things are all downhill fromthere. Don’t you believe it! On my 51st birthday, several of my kidsgot together and presented me with a certificate. It read:
HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD
Because we know of your love of
airplanes(especially old ones) and
becausewe love you, it is our
pleasureto give this gift to you.
Thisentitles Bill Joseph Castenholz to a
one halfhour ride in the plane of his
choice,either the Mustang or the Corsair.
(We aresorry, but the spitfire has only one
seat.)This coupon is to be redeemed on the
day ofyour convenience. Simply contact
Bob Guilford at his office.
We pray that 51 is the best year yet!
With love, your children,
Karen, John, Brenda and Jimmy.
“I thinkeveryone at home was tired of having Dad jump up and run out of the house everytime he heard that certain sound that only a Merlin or a big radial engine makes.
I wasthrilled – so much so that I didn’t call Bob Guilford for about a month. Justthinking about what I had in store was so exciting I wanted to savor the ideaas long as I could.
Butarrangements were made, and one Saturday last august I met Bob at the airport.Bob is an attorney with a passion for flying. Also, as I was about to find out,he was a superb pilot. His control of the Corsair, a notoriously difficultairplane to fly, was very impressive. This was not “Top Gun” but the seriousbusiness of flying – fun, but with the caution that comes from knowing how fasta plane can turn into a smoking hole in the ground.
The BlueMax was awesome! It was not a small plane. And, as a Corsair, it would never beconfused with any other type of plane. The inverted gull wings, the rudder setforward of the end of the fuselage, the long nose with the cockpit almostbehind the trailing edge of the wings, and a propeller that looked like itbelonged on the Spruce Goose. All this in a deep blue paint,with the proper markings of MVF-214, the Black Sheep Squadron. As amatter of fact, the Blue Max was one of the Corsairs used in the filming of theTV series, Ba Ba BlackSheep.
This photo looks like it couldhave been taken on a south Pacific island in 1944.
It was thrilling to see the Blue Max rolled out ontothe tarmac. The Cottonmouth was also moved out of the hanger and I wasn’t sure whichplane I would get to fly in. I had decided some time ago just to let Bob decidewhich plane he wanted to fly that day.
His choice was the Mustang. Secretly, I hadpreferred to go in the Corsair, but who’s going to be disappointed with a ridein a P-51! Bob said that flying up from San Diego the night before, the P-51had lost a generator. The plan was to check it out before we used it. Bobhanded me a screwdriver and asked me if I would help take the cowling off theleft side of the Mustang. What would you say? I get a thrill just looking atthese planes and he wanted me to work on one. I grabbed the screwdriver andstarted undoing the Dzus fasteners. With the paneloff one look showed that Cottonmouth wasn’t going anywhere until the generatorwas replaced. “I guess we’ll have to take the Corsair,” Bob said. I remembersaying something to the effect of “I think I can deal with that.”
The door to the second seat isjust visible below the horizontal tail, at the bottom of the picture.
All Corsairs are one-seat fighters. Thereisn’t room in the cockpit for anything but one person. But the Blue Max, likemany of the remaining Corsairs, had a jump seat installed immediately behindthe cockpit, in the interior of the fuselage. The portion of the bulkheadsupporting the headrest had been removed and two small Plexiglas windows wereinstalled on either side of the fuselage just behind the canopy. The visibility wasn’t great, but it was adequate.
Access to the jump seat was by way of asmall equipment door on the lower side of the fuselage, just large enough for aperson to fit through. Bob’s friend Judy helped me adjust the harness and theintercom. The door was closed, and there we were.
If you have never sat behind 2300horsepower, reading this won’t help. It was indescribable.
Typical of radial engines, when Bob startedthe Blue Max’s engine, the oil in the lower cylinders made a big cloud of bluesmoke, but it quickly cleared and after a few minutes of checkout, we startedto taxi to the east end of the field. A hard thump now and then was caused bythe tail wheel as it bottomed out on some of the bumps.
Whenwe got near to the takeoff position we were behind a small craft, but thecontrol tower gave us priority so Bob moved around the other plane. Therewasn’t much room so Bob just raised the wings and went by.
I didn’t feel the bow draw back but I surefelt the arrow leave the string. We were in the air before we passed mid-field.Our take-off was low and quick.
Takeoff. Themain landing gear is up and only the right gear door remains to be closed.
Isuppose when we’re dropped into a world that’s unfamiliar to us, but one we’velooked forward to being in, we become acute observers. I noticed the largeshaft just below my feet. It was painted red. The entire control of the tail ofthe plane was by way of that shaft. Rotation controlled one surface; movementback and forth controlled the other surface. Judy had said “Keep your feet awayfrom that!” I did.
The inside of the fuselage wasinteresting. Bulkheads spaced every foot or so were connected by littlestringers, and covered by a skin no thicker than a piece of cardboard.
“Where are we?” I asked. “Over the VenturaFreeway, near Agoura.” Then a moment later Bob said “We’re in the acrobaticarea.” I thought to myself “Oh, really!” At that moment I realized that therewas more to this flight than I had imagined. Bob explained that we were goingto do an aileron roll. As the plane began to rotate on its axis, and I realizedI was upside down I again noticed the stringers inside the fuselage. My fingerswere making fingerprints in them as I attempted to prevent falling out of theairplane! As things righted themselves, and the horizon looked normal again Itook a deep breath. But there was something fascinating about what we had justdone.
Then Bob said “Now we are going to do abarrel roll to the left.” I saw the horizon begin to rotate. Again I tried tohold on, but it was different. I guess the first time you are upside down in aplane it is hard to know what to expect. The next time it isn’t so strange. Aswe came out of the roll the G-forces made me feel sluggish. Then we did anotherbarrel roll to the right. I realized that in the second roll I didn’t feel likeI was going to fall. So I kept my eyes on the horizon. It was fantastic to seethe ground, the horizon, level but with all the earth above the horizon! Afterthe third roll my stomach said stop. The rest of me said “go for it.” Well Itold Bob my stomach was quezzy, and we headed forhome. As we approached the Pacific Palisades, I asked if we could fly over myhouse and it was fun to see from the air the streets we have known for aquarter century from the ground.
Another observation I made was how verystable the Blue Max was. Being a heavy, high-powered plane, with high wingloading, the Corsair felt like it was rigidly mounted in the air. The onlyroughness I felt on the entire flight was when we began our landing approach tothe airport. Later I realized it was when the landing gear was extended. Thelanding was very smooth, and a great adventure was over.
Up close the Corsair is anawesome piece of machinery!
My son John and I loitered around thehanger for a while, took some pictures and then drovehome in Bomber. What a contrast – from 46 horsepower to 2300 horsepower andback to 46. My arithmetic says that’s a factor of 50! Well, Bomber can’t fly.But it’s still a great way to get around. Oh yes, Bomber is my 1929 Chevroletsedan. It is the first model of Chevrolet to use the overhead straight-sixwhich was to become the mainstay engine of the Chevrolet Motor Car Companyuntil well into the 1950’s.
When I got home my wife and son Danielwere working in the yard. “Did you see us?” “Yes,” they said. Mom had keptasking Daniel, every time she heard a plane, “Is thatDad?” Daniel, without even looking up would answer “No.” Then, before Mom evenheard the Blue Max, Daniel said “Here they come.” “How do you know?” “Mom,nothing else sounds like that!”
Since last August I have gone to theairport several times just to look at the planes in the hanger. On one occasionMike and I asked if we could walk through the hanger. On leaving I said“Thanks, we had a great flight.” The attendant responded “A fantasy flight?”I’m not sure if it was or not.
Bomber and the Blue Max – twogreat machines!
About a week ago the Blue Max went on itslast flight. After an air show in San Diego, a friend of Bob’s borrowed theBlue Max and took a woman who had helped with the air show for a flight – sortof a reward for her help. Observers said the Blue Max was inverted, in a roll,when it struck the ground. Both occupants were killed and the Corsair wascompletely destroyed.
Postscript: About a year ago now, sometime in 2010, I asked DavidPrice “How is Bob Guilford doing?” “Oh,” David said, “He’s dead. His airplane crashed and he died.”
Flying in these vintage war birds is adangerous business.